Focus on deep drops for bass

Dave Wolak, a professional bass angler, shows off a bass he caught while using a flutter spoon. Few anglers use flutter spoons so bass rarely see this type of lure. (Photo by John N. Felsher)

When people began damming streams to generate hydroelectric power, control flooding or provide reliable water sources, the structures changed fishing forever. Anglers accustomed to fishing along shallow riverbanks needed to learn new techniques for catching bass in deep, open reservoirs.

Fortunately, advances in electronic technology helped anglers by giving them ways to examine bottom contours even in the deepest lakes. Today, sonar units can do so much more than simply determine the depth. Many high-tech units can display incredibly detailed information so anglers can find and target specific fish.

“I don’t go anywhere without the Garmin Panoptix LiveScope (www.garmin.com) system,” said Tyler Rivet, a Bassmaster Elite Series pro from Raceland. “It tremendously changed the way people fish. I grew up fishing in South Louisiana, where we don’t have any deep reservoirs, so we fish shallow water along the banks. Now, we just pass over the brush pile and see it on LiveScope. We turn around and look at the screen to count all the fish we want to catch. It’s insane.”

First, get sonar

In many ways, winter bass fishing resembles hunting. To catch fish, anglers need to find fish. Using quality electronics helps. Bass always congregate where they can find the best combination of comfortable temperatures, oxygen, food and cover. LiveScope and similar technologies opened entire reservoir bottoms to anglers. Old shorelines became submerged ledges and shelves that provide bass with cover to ambush bait and easy access to deep or shallow water.

Trent Hill shows off a bass he caught on a crankbait. A deep-running crankbait can be effective for tempting bass along ledges. (Photo by John N. Felsher)

“Anyone who wants to fish ledges first needs to get a good sonar unit and a good map,” said Gene Bishop, a Bassmaster Classic veteran and guide (601-941-9493, www.fish5work2.com) from Jackson, Miss. “The most active fish will be on top of the ledge. I look for any little underwater point or irregularity on the ledge. An irregularity combined with a hard bottom of clay, gravel or mussel shells makes a good place to fish.”

Loggers clearcut many reservoirs before the water rises, but stumps remain. In other lakes, like Toledo Bend, abundant timber stands in deep water. In addition, people place thousands of brush piles in almost every lake across the South, mainly to attract crappie. Bass also hang around brush piles to eat crappie, bream and other fish. All those bottom contours and secondary structures make excellent places for bass to ambush prey.

“An old tree that was laying down on the shoreline years ago, but is now underwater could be a good place to fish,” said Kevin Lasyone, the American Bass Anglers Top 150 Solo Series 2022 Southwest Division Angler of the Year from Dry Prong. “We can find that old tree with electronics. I also look for stumps on the ledges. Some very small stumps hold big fish, but I like to find the biggest stumps I can.”

With good technology, anybody can find bass. However, even the best electronic units cannot make fish bite. In general, fish slower, deeper and with smaller, more subtle lures during the winter. A cold, lethargic bass won’t chase baits far or fast, but might slurp an easy-to-grab temptation dangling right in front of its face.

Ledge lures

Chrome jigging spoons make an excellent way to catch bass in deep water. With high-end electronics, anglers can watch bass hit the spoons as they fall. (Photo by John N. Felsher)

For bagging bass in deep water, few techniques work more effectively than vertically jigging half to ¾-ounce chrome spoons. For deeper water, go up to a 1 or even a 1.25-ounce spoon. Heavy and compact, jigging spoons sink quickly and flutter down like a dying shad. Even the most lethargic bass can’t resist a dying shad falling past its nose. Use a controlled descent as the spoon sinks to the proper depth. With good electronics, anglers can watch a spoon descend and see bass strike it as it falls. If the spoon hits bottom, jig it up and down a few times.

“My favorite lures for fishing around ledges in the winter are big worms or jigs,” Rivet said. “Fish deep ledges slowly because the fish are sluggish. When it’s really cold, my main lure is a jigging spoon. With good electronics, people can see fish in deep holes or determine where bass want to suspend. With LiveScope, people can spot bass in deep water and drop a spoon right on it. Bass might not want to chase a bait, but they’ll hit an easy target of opportunity.”

Most anglers simply drop spoons to the bottom, but bass don’t always go that deep. They frequently suspend well above the bottom, particularly around vertical cover like standing trees, stumps or drop-off walls. For tempting suspended fish, cast spoons and work them almost like jerkbaits. Let them sink a few feet and then vigorously jerk them. Add a split ring on the nose and tie a swivel to the line to keep the lure from twisting the line.

A flutter spoon also makes a good bait for enticing suspended bass. It consists of a long thin, oblong sheet of concave metal. Few people use flutter spoons in fresh water, so bass rarely see this lure type. Fan-cast flutter spoons around drop-off edges and let them flutter to the bottom. Jerk a spoon up off the bottom and let it flutter down again.

Let it sink

A jerkbait mimics a shad and can work very well for tempting aggressive largemouth and spotted bass prowling the ledge tops. Toss a suspending jerkbait to a good area and let it sink. Estimate the sink rate by counting down by “one one-thousand, two one-thousand” for each second. To best fish a jerkbait, use a “pop, pop, stop, pop, pop, stop” cadence with a couple seconds between the fall and the start back. That causes the bait to shimmy from side to side, almost like a walk-the-dog topwater bait, but under the water.

Keith Poche, a professional bass angler born and raised in Natchitoches, La., admires a bass he caught on a jig. A jig can move easily through thick cover that would entangle other baits. (Photo by John N. Felsher)

“A suspending jerkbait is another good lure choice around ledges, particularly when fishing clear water,” Bishop said. “In clear water, bass can see a jerkbait several feet above them and come up to hit it. If bass are hanging right off the drop-off lip, a crankbait would be another good choice. When throwing a crankbait, I like the lip to dig into the bottom. That way, when it comes off the edge, the bait goes down a little. Bass sit right over the edge waiting to smash it.”

Big swimbaits also simulate baitfish, such as shad or bream, and usually attract larger than average bass. Many realistic swimbaits almost look like something an angler would rather fry than fling. Run swimbaits parallel to drop-off edges or work them slowly down the ledges. Periodically pause the retrieve to let the lure sink like a dying shad.

“I like to fish V&M swimbaits around ledges,” Lasyone said. “I fish it with a Lazyman Hook belly weight on the hook. I fish it way slower than most people. With the belly weight, the bait falls parallel to the bottom instead of nose-diving. It wobbles back and forth as it sinks.”

For lethargic fish in deep water, try a drop-shot rig. Tip it with a small grub, worm or other soft-plastic temptation hooked about 12 to 48 inches above a weight. On a spinning rod outfit loaded with 6- to 8-pound-test fluorocarbon line, drop the bait to the bottom around secondary structures or drop-off walls. When it hits bottom, shake the rod to give it a little subtle action.

On the bottom

When bass stay near the bottom, drag a heavy jig, big Texas-rigged worm or a Carolina rig over the contours. Tip a jig or Carolina rig with a lizard or other creature bait. In cold water, downsize the offering. Move such baits extremely slowly around cover like stumps or brush piles. Pause occasionally. Just the slightest water movements could cause tentacles, tails or other plastic appendages on the lure to quiver just enough to tempt lethargic bass.

A weedless jig makes a great temptation for largemouth bass. It can get into thick cover where other lures cannot go. Anglers can tip a jig with many different kinds of trailers. (Photo by John N. Felsher)

“Probably 85 to 90 percent of the time, I’ll stay in 25 to 40 feet of water throwing a ¾-ounce V&M Baits football jig or a big Texas-rigged worm up shallow and dragging the bottom until I drag it off the ledge,” Lasyone said. “I like to find what I call a ‘spider stump.’ It’s an old stump that has been there a long time with roots coming off of it in all directions. Big bass get down in those roots. I drag a jig or a worm through those roots. Brush piles on ledges are another prime spot.”

Larger, deeper reservoirs like Toledo Bend offer anglers uncountable ledges to fish. Anglers can also fish ledges in Caney Lake, Kincaid Lake, Indian Creek and many other reservoirs. Even small lakes with creek channels, like John K. Kelly Grand Bayou Reservoir, can offer excellent ledge fishing.

In Mississippi, Pickwick Lake probably offers the best ledge fishing, but anglers could fish ledges in lakes as shallow as Ross Barnett Reservoir.

The “Big Four” lakes in northern Mississippi — Grenada, Sardis, Enid and Arkabutla — also provide good ledge fishing opportunities. Practically anywhere that people can find a sloping shoreline and a drop-off into a deeper channel might hold bass living on the edge and waiting to bite something too tempting to ignore.

You just have to go find them.

About John Felsher 21 Articles
John N. Felsher is a professional freelance writer and photographer with more than 1,700 articles in more than 117 magazines to his credit.

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